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Q & A: David Laude, undergrad dean

Q & A: David Laude, undergrad dean
David LaudeIn his ten years as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, David Laude has been instrumental in affecting many changes that have transformed undergraduate education in the College of Natural Sciences.

His fingerprints are on programs and initiatives like UTeach, the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, the Undergraduate Research Forum, the Freshman Research Initiative, and the Transitional Advising Center. Laude has also won numerous awards for his teaching of chemistry and advising of students. He is the father of five children.

Focus on Science recently sat down with Laude to learn why and how he does what he does.

Focus: How did you end up as an associate dean?

Laude: I had always wanted to be a teacher more than anything else. From the moment I worked as a teaching assistant as an undergraduate, I loved it. Naively, I imagined I would be a professor who taught. When I got to graduate school, it turned out I was also really good at research. I taught every semester, but I also published a whole bunch of papers. When I began looking for a job, it made sense to present myself as a research professor, rather than as teaching professor (as I’d imagined I’d be), and to apply for jobs at major research institutions rather than at small liberal arts colleges.

At UT, I did what you’re supposed to do. I started a research program, and it got bigger and bigger. At one point I had 16 graduate students in the lab. I enjoyed it immensely, but I had always thought that at some point I’d like to try administrative work. When I saw that Mike Starbird was leaving the associate dean position, I applied. And I was hired.

At first, I thought I could continue to do research as well, but it wasn’t possible, and I realized that this was my calling. It’s an extension of what I’d wanted from the beginning, to be involved with students.

Did you have an over-arching theory of what you wanted to accomplish as a dean?

Absolutely not. When I took the job, I didn’t even know what a Dean’s Office was. I didn’t know what my job would be.     A lot of what I do comes from students coming into my office and asking me for something. And then I ask myself whether it’s possible. “Does Natural Sciences give out scholarships? Is there a program that does this?” And if the answer I have to give is “No,” then maybe I should be thinking about how to change things so the answer is “Yes.”

Do you miss research?

The years I spent getting tenure were probably the most fun I’ve had in my life. I remember driving home at 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was so caught up in what I was doing that I would miss my Round Rock exit and end up in Temple. It was just great, great fun--the camaraderie with the grad students, and the excitement of competing with other scientists around the world. But after I got tenure, it lost some of the urgency. The sources of funding started to change, and it became more about finding ways to partner with corporations and develop intellectual property. That wasn’t what I was interested in. I am an idealist by nature, and when people start talking about being pragmatic, my tendency is to turn in the other direction. So it was pretty easy to walk away from research at that point. In my job as a student dean, I have yet to table my idealism. I can ask, “Is this what’s best for the students?” and know that will always lead to the right answer.
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Saturday, 23 September 2017

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